Recently, my granddaughter Daisy attended a school home-learning session, where her nursery teacher talked briefly to the children about internet safety.
Daisy is already using the internet, apps and smart screens as part of her everyday routines – she joins videoconferenced classes, she practices her reading skills on apps such as Reading Eggs, and watches her favourite programmes and films on streaming services. She even enjoys experimenting with search engine results about her favourite topics. This all takes place under parental supervision
At the recent session – which took place on the UK’s Safer Internet Day – Daisy’s teacher gave her young class some simple but valuable advice for what they can do if they see something that worries them online: go and speak to a parent or carer about it straightaway.
The Early Years foundation stage encourages young children to become familiar with technology, selecting and using it for particular purposes (under the category of ‘Understanding the World’).
At times, the wording used in the framework can seem almost quaint, given how technology has infiltrated our lives! It doesn’t seem like much effort is required to ‘encourage children to click on different icons to cause things to happen in a computer program’ let alone to ‘draw young children’s attention to pieces of ICT apparatus they see’ – increasingly, it seems like second nature to many of them.
Safer screen time
Yet while we all celebrate and marvel at the ease with which young children seem to instinctively understand how to work our various devices and send us lines of ‘scribble text’, emojis and stickers, we need to acknowledge that, the more that young children become familiar with using technology and accessing the Internet, the more we must be aware of the dangers and of maintaining their safety in this sphere.
We must give the same thought to the safety of their digital environment as we do to their physical environment. This starts with some basic routines for those children who are five years old and under, which should make it easier to maintain good practices as they grow and continue to become familiar with screen time.
I recommend using helpful sites such as Internet Matters – a free online resource for parents and carers in the UK with advice and information for online safety. They offer useful pre-school online safety advice in the form of a clear and engaging video and a PDF. Although preschool children should not be searching the internet unsupervised, you could consider using a safe search engine together, such as Swiggle, which is advertisement-free and designed for children aged 7-11.
One clear message is to establish good practice by exploring online together and ensure that you have set parental controls on each device.
And even with pre-school children, it is useful to set time limits for how long they are allowed to access the internet and use devices. It’s easier to establish these boundaries while a child is very young!
In Daisy’s case, I don’t imagine sticking to the rules will be an issue – she’s a stickler for detail and has high standards.
Recently, her parents changed their broadband provider in an attempt to remedy the slow speeds and dropped connections that Daisy had come to see as a commonplace annoyance.
When she saw that their old wifi router had been left in the backyard, pending a trip to the recycling centre, she decided to have some stern words to ensure she didn’t have to endure further poor coverage. “You, Internet, stay out there!” she said to the discarded router. “Because you didn’t work. We don’t love you!”